River­side com­mu­nity goes green

New Straits Times - - World -

JAKARTA: Brightly coloured wooden-and-brick houses line a clean river­side path amid trees and veg­etable gar­dens, a tran­quil scene in the chaotic In­done­sian cap­i­tal here.

Res­i­dents have trans­formed the “kam­pung ”, as tra­di­tional neigh­bour­hoods are known, into a model of clean and green liv­ing to fight off the threat of evic­tion.

Tongkol vil­lage was once much like many other down-at-heel river­side com­mu­ni­ties found across the over­crowded, traf­fic­choked me­trop­o­lis of 10 mil­lion.

But a se­ries of con­tro­ver­sial evic­tions of water­side neigh­bour­hoods, aimed at get­ting houses away from the cap­i­tal’s rivers to com­bat an­nual flood­ing, spurred the res­i­dents into mak­ing ma­jor changes.

“We want to prove that poor peo­ple can bring about change in their en­vi­ron­ment,” said Gu­gun Muham­mad, a res­i­dent.

The project, which be­gan in 2015, in­volved launch­ing a ma­jor clean-up by send­ing rafts onto the stretch of river run­ning through Tongkol to re­move moun­tains of trash, put­ting up bins around the vil­lage and signs to re­mind res­i­dents not to lit­ter.

The most dras­tic part of the facelift saw res­i­dents tak­ing sledge­ham­mers to their own houses.

They wanted to en­sure the build­ings were at least 5m from the river to lessen the risk of flood­ing and al­low road ac­cess.

Veg­etable and herbs are cul­ti­vated in spe­cially con­structed boxes; pa­paya, mango and ba­nana hang from trees; and com­post­ing or­ganic waste is sec­ond na­ture to the 260 fam­i­lies that make up the small com­mu­nity.

Sep­tic tanks have also been fit­ted to some houses to re­duce the amount of raw sewage be­ing pumped into the river.

While some res­i­dents are still in the bad habit of lit­ter­ing, it is a stark con­trast to how the kam­pung looked a few years ago.

The piles of rub­bish that once lined the river­banks are gone and the floods that used to in­un­date the neigh­bour­hood ev­ery rainy sea­son are a thing of the past.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a suc­cess just yet — but it’s far bet­ter than be­fore,” said Gu­gun, 30, who also works for a civil so­ci­ety group called the Ur­ban Poor Con­sor­tium.

The res­i­dents de­cided to take mat­ters into their own hands as they feared be­ing forced from their homes in the evic­tion drive spear­headed by Jakarta gover­nor Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama.

Pur­nama has de­fended the cam­paign, say­ing it will pre­vent the an­nual floods by al­low­ing rivers to be widened.

As the gov­ern­ment drive gath­ered mo­men­tum and au­thor­i­ties threat­ened Tongkol with evic­tion in 2015, trans­form­ing the neigh­bour­hood took on an ur­gency for a com­mu­nity that has ex­isted for half a cen­tury.

“To build a new life is scary — be­ing evicted is not an op­tion,” Puji Ra­hayu, a 43-year-old Tongkol res­i­dent, said.

Gu­gun said the kam­pung was try­ing to live day by day and not fo­cus on the ever-present threat of los­ing their homes. AFP

AFP PIC

The pre­vi­ous con­di­tion of Tongkol vil­lage is jux­ta­posed against its cur­rent con­di­tion in Jakarta in Jan­uary.

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